Resilience on a 16 hour plane ride

At the Delta outpost, the first fireflies are out.  The first one always surprises me.  This one I thought was a car on a distant road.  Then it started driving crazy fast  and into hover mode over a wet field and I changed my hypothesis.  So great to see them, along with everything else I missed in Africa.  Yesterday I finished a 31 hour journey home, including a 16 hour flight from Africa.

DSCN9940Believe it or not, I wanted to go on the 16 hour flight because it took me through South Africa.  It’s one of the most fascinating countries on Earth.  Other Dutch settled there about the same time my Dutch ancestors settled New York.  I’m sure there’s an Afrikaner somewhere who looks a lot like me.  That’s what they call themselves–Afrikaners.  They consider themselves a white tribe living in Africa.  The Dutch their ancestors spoke turned into a new language, Afrikaans.  Movies and newspapers and some University classes are still Afrikaans.  They are stubborn Dutchmen, refusing to abandon their language and beliefs, even though they have turned over control of their country to other tribes.

I don’t stay in South Africa for long because my work takes me to poorer countries to the North, but the 16 hour flight means I get to stay in the land of the Zulu and the Afrikaans for a while at least.  Sixteen hours on a plane fills many with dread.  But I’ve spent many stretches of 16 hours mainly in an office working on some project.  Sometimes by choice, sometimes not.  So I try to view the time as an opportunity.  I take books I want to read and ideas I want to explore.

Coming back is always easier.  I’m usually so inspired by my time in Africa that I have plenty to write about.  This time I got interested in the relationship between resilient families and communities and nations.  And selfishness, crime and development.  I’ll put all that together sometime soon.

The reason I get inspired in Africa is that I am totally immersed in a different culture, solving qualitatively different problems than I face in the US.  Those squabbles and constraints and goals are just totally forgotten.  Then, when I get done with my African assignment, I begin to remember what so consumed me when I’d left the US.  But I see them in a new light.  The new light reveals facets of the problem I hadn’t seen before.  And it reveals that barriers I’d thought solid and intractable can easily be stepped around.

Some people go on vacations to accomplish the same thing.  My trips to Africa are a bit of vacation, but so much more interesting than just going from one tourist site to another.  I always get immersed in a community which has a particular need that I’m there to fill: a marketing plan, agricultural training, cooperative development.  They need me there to help them grow food, earn a living and survive.

Some of the problems consuming my time before I left are so trivial in comparison.  Being away from them for a while reveals that.  I can just let some of them go.  They don’t matter at all.

It’s the same reason some folks want to come to Meadowcreek.  They want to escape their bad habits, their cell phones, their urban busy-ness.  Meadowcreek is a great place to do that.  We can put you to work building beds, making biochar, planting trees, harvesting mushrooms and veggies for your meals, and swimming in spring fed pools after you are done.

The problems which so consumed you before you came to Meadowcreek melt away as you work in the fields and woods.  The problems of poor communities in Africa won’t melt away after a few days at Meadowcreek.  They will always be there, calling me to come back.

In the mean time, I don’t want to become immersed in the petty, trivial problems many Americans have.  So, I’ll do my best to not get sucked into interaction with petty, trivial people.  I hope you do the same.  And when I fail and their petty, trivial concerns and desires start to weigh me down again, I’ll just accept another assignment in Africa or the Caucasus.


Take home from Africa: resilient families

The pre-dawn call to prayer got the local dogs howling just now.  Not too many such blasts from mosques to incite the dogs where I’m headed.

DSCN9974“Last day in Africa” is something you wish wouldn’t happen but also look forward to. Eager to get back home, but hate to leave such an interesting place.  Every visit I’ve made to Africa was unique, but this one had qualities I’ve never seen before.

  1. Food on this trip was the best, especially since I didn’t have to eat nsima (boiled corn flour paste) even once. Rural people in much of Africa eat this stiff corn flour concoction at almost every meal.  It’s prepared by mixing corn flour with water and then boiling it.  That’s how we made homemade paste when I was growing up and paste is what is tastes like.  It’s called sadza in Zimbabwe and does taste a little like suds, too.  Soap suds.  So many great dishes are made with corn flour (such as gomi, the thick corn mash of the Republic of Georgia); I don’t understand why nsime is so popular here.
  2. Hot shower every day. I so assume cold showers in Africa that on one trip to Kenya, I didn’t even ask if they had a switch for hot water until the last day.  So I went 10 days with cold showers when hot water was just a toggle switch away.  The most interesting African technology for generating hot water is an electric heater which fits over the shower head and heats the water as it comes out.  It also can give you a nice electric shock while you are standing in water.
  3. I got American quality steak not once but twice in two weeks. Beef steak in Africa usually comes from tough old cows who might qualify as hamburger in the US.  The Cluny Lodge knows how to do steak.
  4. Never got hot enough to make me sweat. Heat and sweat have always been my companion in Africa.  On this trip, on the edge of winter in the highlands, no day was warm enough to cause a sweat.
  5. Never had to rely on an interpreter to get my work done. I’ve always needed interpreters in the past, but here in Malawi, everyone spoke English. Interpreters can kill you.  When your job is to teach, you are totally dependent on your interpreter.  I’ve seen trainers whose students thought they were incompetent because of a bad interpreter.  The worst interpreters are those who don’t understand the concepts you’re using, but would rather fake it than ask what a term means.
  6. No overcrowding. In contrast to every other Africa capital, Lilongwe is an oasis.  Most of it looks like a series of parks.  If New York City were Lilongwe, it would be Central Park multiplied by 25.

Some things about trips to Africa are always the same.  I miss my garden, greenhouse, the open spaces around the Delta outpost, the pristine wilderness of Meadowcreek and driving my truck.  The luxury of having a driver take me everywhere quickly becomes the burden of not being independent.

A universal constant of my Africa trips has been the personal resilience of the people.  On the Mozambique border near Dedza, I met an older farmer hobbling on homemade crutches.  Thieves had broken his leg.  His daughter and nephew showed us all the peaches they had grafted and the corn planted on every square inch not occupied by fruit trees.  Since the patriarch couldn’t get around much, his wife and daughters were managing the farm.  They had dressed in their Sunday best for our visit, but that didn’t stop them from hiking to their back orchard to pick a couple of bags of ripe guavas for us.

I’m not sure how they keep on keeping on, but they do.  They epitomize the qualities of personal resilience we discuss in chapter 7.[1]

Adaptability, good relations with family and friends, accepting change, taking action, looking for opportunities, keeping things in perspective, hope, sense of humor, taking time to relax.

I’ll miss these folks.  I just wish they weren’t plagued by governmental systems which undermine all attempts at creating a better world.  Resilient families, dysfunctional government—the underlying constant here.



Schools and education versus resilience

In Malawi and most of the world, even elementary students have to pay to go to a good school.  Free public schools in Malawi have a student teacher ratio of 96:1 and often no books.  Poor parents work several jobs to scrape up the money for school fees and uniforms.  They know a good education is required for success.  Schools vie to be seen as the best so they can attract students.  This free market system of education means families have a plethora of choices.  And more schools start every year.

landscape-1444319662-girlsridingonroadIn Malawi, it seems every religious denomination has its own school system from elementary through college.  Recently, even local synods are starting up schools and colleges.  Education is a growth industry in Malawi and all through the countries I’ve visited in Africa.  Part of the reason is that African countries have so many young people.  The average woman in Malawi gives birth to more than 5 children in her lifetime.  Forty-six percent of the population is below 15. Lots of schools are needed.

On the way to work every day, I pass several schools in just a few blocks. When school lets out, the kids in school uniforms swarm the roads.  They all know it’s a privilege to be in a good school.  They also know if they are disruptive, they will be booted out.  Private schools won’t last long if they are known for having students who disrupt the education of others.  Parents simply take their children elsewhere.

The strict discipline in the top schools can have an unintended side effect.  It creates obedience to teachers who mostly have no experience in any world other than schools.  They obtained degrees in school and went straight into teaching school.

Spend too much time in school and you think the world is composed of teachers and groups of people who want a good grade from their teacher.  Your job is to master what the teacher thinks is true, though it may be inconsistent with anything you experience outside of school.  That doesn’t matter a whole lot as long as your goal is to succeed in school.  And if you move from being a student to being a teacher, you are safe in the system.

Sometimes those educated in such systems wander out of the school.  They don’t go into manufacturing or science or farming or ecosystem management and try to produce something the world really needs because their main skills are in how to toady up to teachers.  So they can go into a large government or business bureaucracy, kow-tow to a boss and move up the pyramid.  The trouble is that they haven’t tested what they have been taught in systems outside the classroom.  That makes it impossible to distinguish between a pyramid with a solid foundation and a pyramid scheme.

The over-educated do learn how to poke holes in any argument.  If you concentrate on poking holes in all the tried and true wisdom, you eventually don’t have anything left to believe in, including the value of your life, so you might as well commit suicide.  Most don’t go quite that far.  They still value themselves.  And they build their entire world around the value of their selves.  Whatever this self wants is what they go after.  Most often this self is mainly interested in pleasure, so they go for sugar, caffeine, sex and other drugs.  Rarely, the over-educated find themselves able to access an even stronger pleasure–power over others.  Then whatever they do is politics.  It’s all about the ability to control others and get them to do what you want them to do.

The lucky countries have had leaders who weren’t quite so over-educated.  Their formal knowledge of education was balanced by a tacit knowledge gained through interacting with natural phenomena outside the controlled conditions of academia and laboratory.  We had a President who was shot down in the Pacific and spent hours swimming until he was finally rescued.

This President knew he had to attack Saddam Hussein when he invaded Kuwait.  He also knew the limits of power and didn’t try to destroy Saddam by invading Iraq.  His son wasn’t shot down in the Pacific but avoided such experience by using his father’s connections.  So he never gained the tacit knowledge of his father and invaded Iraq and Afghanistan and then really thought he could turn those tribal lands into modern democracies.  He failed and now is living out his life painting pretty pictures.    Art is one way out for the over-educated.  Art celebrates the individual and pleasure.  It doesn’t clean up the messes the artist created is his past life.

Cleaning up those messes is left to his successors.  If they are also over-educated, they will focus on pleasure and satisfying the other over-educated people in their class.  Those people know only the world of school.  They are master educators who can convince the gullible while maintaining their cynicism and sarcasm about all the wisdom of the ages.  They trust in pleasure and maximizing pleasure for the masses to maintain control over them.

We know what happens to societies which follow this route.  They fail to understand natural cycles, natural inclinations because they haven’t experienced such things.  They encounter a Putin versed in a little more practical sort of knowledge and they are nonplused.  He grabs what he wants and even accomplishes things they can’t, such as cease fires in Syria.  But he’s obviously on the wrong side of history, they say.  And they go back to work reassembling an electoral majority of the overeducated and pleasure-seeking.  That vast majority of voters has little or no practical knowledge of what makes systems thrive and survive.  Politicians can keep getting elected if they just focus on the wants of the overeducated and pleasure-seeking.  That’s the way to stay in power.  It worked for generations of Romans, just as it worked for generations of urbanites in hundreds of civilized cities throughout Asia and the Middle East.  Cities which disappeared under the sands created by their lack of knowledge of what makes a resilient ecosystem.

I’ve met many great educators in Malawi.  They are the ones who do what they teach, who practice what they preach.  They are teaching practical skills which enable real world systems to survive and thrive.  In other words, they are teaching about resilient systems.  Their students are our hope.

Warm heart of Africa

Here in Malawi, I have a wide verandah which faces east.  I take my coffee there just after sunrise.  The sun, filtered by jacaranda trees, warms the porch cooled by a night at high altitude.  This is my eleventh trip to Africa and nearly every morning has been beautiful.  I only remember one less-than-stellar morning in Africa.  It was in Egypt toward the end of a two-day sandstorm.  But Egypt is not really Africa, is it?  The Arab countries north of the DSCN8885Sahara really don’t belong to the rest of the continent.

On this trip I’m in the heart of Africa.  They call Malawi the warm heart of Africa due to the friendliness of the people.   And why wouldn’t you be in a good mood when the temperature is never too hot or cold and ripe fruit is ready to pick all year round.  Yet wherever you go, tall walls and strong gates surround all but the poorest huts.  In the towns, the walls are topped with shards of glass embedded in concrete.  For some compounds the shards are replaced with several strands of electric wire.

I hate looking at those shards of glass because of the dark side of society they point to.  Every family has stories of robbers breaking into their houses.  Providing security for homes and businesses is a growth industry.  Unfortunately, you don’t need those shards to experience this dark side.  Any drive anywhere in the country means being stopped several times by police looking for an excuse to fine you.  Always remember to take a few thousand kwacha with you.  They can always find something to fine you for, if they want to.  Luckily, three thousand kwacha (less than $5) is usually enough to get you back on the road.  Somehow, though, we were lucky and never fined on this visit.

In many developing countries, the best way to become rich is to become a mayor or policeman.  The opportunities for graft and bribes are many.  No one likes all this graft, corruption and robbery, but it’s a fact of life, so you deal with it.  It’s just a cost of doing business.

Remembering how we still leave the keys in our cars and the doors unlocked in rural America, I can’t help but wonder what it would take to bring such peace and security to poor countries such as Malawi.  Then I remember that much of America has problems with bribery and theft.  I’m just lucky to live in a rural area where crime and corruption seldom come.

I come to Africa to help people make their farms, businesses and communities more resilient.  I help them add value to the commodities they produce, form cooperatives, market their new products.  I wish I knew how to help them reduce corruption and crime.

I marvel at how little I need to worry about crime in my little corner of the world.  I can hardly imagine what it must be like to live with the memory and fear of violent crime.  Yet people seem to live happy lives despite the regular visits of crime.  It’s a mystery to me.

I’ve completed my training here and left my hosts very happy with the marketing plan they requested.  We had fascinating conversations behind the high walls of their compound.  I just wish I could leave them with the lack of crime where I live in Arkansas.

Having experienced very little violence in my life, it’s hard to imagine not having a peaceful life far from crime.

If you live in one of the fortunate low crime areas of the world, be grateful.  And, if you want to do something really useful, figure out why the crime is so low there.  Then maybe we can help the high crime areas.  And then maybe we can build resilient, prosperous societies on that foundation.

In a couple of days, I’ll be back home where we don’t need guards and high walls.  And I’ll be grateful and wishing I knew why.

Legal, moral, and natural courts

It’s a beautiful Saturday morning in the highlands of Central Africa.  Some parts of Africa just have perfect temperatures.  Here in the highlands near the Equator, the temperature rarely gets below 50 and rarely above 80.  It’s surely the Eden our species came from.  Plentiful and delicious fruit still appear on the trees every month of the year.

a group of peach growersThe Ethiopian and Kenyan highlands are well known for the archaeological digs which unearthed bones appearing to be human ancestors.  On a visit to the national museum in Addis Ababa, I saw the bones of Lucy—the most famous of all the reputed human ancestors.  This Australopithecus specimen is said to have lived 3.2 million years ago.  She hardly looks different from a monkey and some scientists believe that’s all she ever was.

In these African highlands, from Ethiopia to Zimbabwe, various other skeletons have been found which look more like modern man and less like Lucy.  Two million years ago, according to the fossil record, these folks began to appear in Europe and China.  Other intrepid groups left the Eden of Africa in subsequent years.  One with a big brain and a rugged physique took over vast territories and left his skeleton to be discovered and named in the Neader Thal in Germany.

These Neaderthal are still with those of us who descended from Europeans.  We have about 2-3% Neaderthal genes.  But our genome is mostly dominated by a species which arrived in Europe about 43,000 years ago.  This species underwent some really rough times, including almost being wiped out in the Ice Age.  Only three pockets remained.  One in Ukraine expanded as the last ice sheets retreated and populated all of Northern Europe.

Eventually these fair skinned, light haired and blue eyed folks brought agriculture and destruction of innumerable species to Russia, Scandinavia and Germany.  Meanwhile, their slightly darker cousins did the same across China and, most recently, in the Americas.  With more rudimentary technologies, agriculture was less intrusive and many more species survived in sub-Saharan Africa.

But it was something more basic than technology which enabled man to thoroughly subdue and dominate the world.  Leaving Africa, man brought cooperation to an epitome, working together to defeat all sorts of natural foes, from drought to flood to wild animals.  Men agreed that certain norms, rules or laws were beneficial to their societies.  They instilled these beliefs in their children.  If the rules enabled their society to flourish and outcompete other societies, they continued to be passed down.

The legal, moral and natural courts were all the same in those days.  Societies did not survive when their rules and norms were inconsistent with natural law.  Hundreds of dead and abandoned cities across the Middle East and Central Asia attest to the power of nature to destroy civilizations who do not follow her laws.

Where civilizations came to know and follow more of nature’s laws, societies grew and became more powerful.  They dominated other societies who knew fewer of nature’s laws. Back then, few separated civic, moral and natural laws.  In those days, lawyers’ jobs were to uphold the law, not seek ways to skirt it to benefit their clients.  When one of Shakespeare’s characters seeks to help evil triumph, he says “First we kill the lawyers.”[1]

Social norms, rules and laws were just means of establishing social organization.  They enabled people to cooperate with each other.  Where people follow no rule of law, cooperation, altruism and social organization are limited if not impossible.

The survival of the strongest and most vicious continues until enough of a population agrees to obey a common set of norms, rules and laws.  Then cooperation, altruism and social organization can burgeon.  Unfortunately, as cooperation and social organization become more and more developed, people can congregate in larger and larger numbers.  As towns and then cities are created, the space between human laws and natural laws begins to widen.  Lack of contact with nature results in promulgation of laws in conflict with natural systems.  Humans systems begin to pillage the natural systems on which they depend.

In Africa, huge cities, the tools to create them, and the inevitable divergence from natural laws did not occur until the continent was colonized.  Then the destruction of the magnificent wild species began to follow the same path as in the rest of the world.

Today there are few places in Africa where wild species are free to roam.  Most wild species must be protected by high and electrified fences.  Malawi does still have a few spots where wild species roam freely.  Last weekend we visited Lake Malawi, the deepest lake in Africa and almost the biggest.  Hippos, elephants and crocodiles still traverse the edges of this lake.  Now and then a small child is swallowed by a hippo.

Mostly this happens when people are visiting new resorts placed on the shore in territory which has always belonged to the hippos.  As in most of Africa, the population is booming and grabbing more and more of the wild animals’ territory.  Nothing seems able to counter the inexorable expansion of human population.  Humans seem poised to once again wipe out a continent’s megafauna.

Cooperation and social organization is enabled by the rise of human laws and rules.  Natural laws support cooperation, but social organization which limits cooperation to humans and a few domesticated species now permits the destruction of the diversity and connectivity upon which all of nature is based.

Africa’s natural riches are being depleted and destroyed.  I’ve been watching it happen for almost 30 years.  Most recently the Chinese have taken the forefront in destruction of natural systems as they search for minerals.  They seem to lack any concern for preservation of natural systems.  They destroy entire river valleys seeking a few tons of gold.  The rivers run red after they are finished.  The pollution and extinction of wild species endemic to China is being exported to Africa.

Here in Eden-like Malawi, where wild fruit is available year round and temperatures are just perfect, ecosystem destruction shows no sign of slowing down.  The cooperation of people which creates hospitals and enables more and more to escape disease and death is not accompanied by cooperation with nature.  Human societies have never and can never survive when they ignore natural laws.

We humans judge each other in legal courts.  When those fail, we sometimes judge each other in moral courts.  None of these will matter if we don’t begin to heed the judgement of the court of natural law.  The laws which make natural and human systems survive and thrive are known.  They’ve been elucidated by those who study ecological resilience.[2]

Here in the highlands of Malawi, where man has lived with nature and enjoyed her bounty the longest, destruction of local ecosystems has finally come.  We’re here to teach the laws of ecological resilience.  But most people’s minds are captured by the norms and laws of a social system which has lost touch with natural laws.

Malawi is no different from the rest of the world.  Just more poignant here because the most magnificent species are still able to roam free here and there.  The end has not yet come here.  We can still hope.


[1] Dick the Butcher in ”Henry VI,” Part II, act IV, Scene II, Line 73.

[2] Join the journey toward ecological resilience through our free online book, available at:


Shiva, rebirth, resilience

We like Christmas more than Easter, babies more than dying people.  We like helping new things grow and develop.  Then, after they are grown, comes the hard part.

lord-shiva-64aAnyone who has ever worked hard to build up a farm, a business, a career, a garden, or a family finds it hard to face one fact: all systems disintegrate.  To not recognize this fact is to ignore the adaptive cycles characteristics of all living systems. All systems go through stages of growth, maturity, disassembly and reassembly.  All too often, in our efforts to maintain the system, we sow the seeds of a more destructive disassembly.

The mature forest, watched over carefully to preserve it from fire, will eventually build up so much flammable material that a much hotter, more destructive fire results.  The landscape is stripped of protective cover, suffers erosion and can never again become a lush forest.

Semi-arid lands, if totally protected from animal grazing by well-meaning conservationists, will develop a crust on their soils leading to less penetration of moisture and exacerbation of desertification.

A company focused on buying or eliminating competitors to dominate a national market  doesn’t pay attention to changing market drivers, only to have a more innovative company come in from outside and destroy it.

A people are intent on maximizing pleasure because “you only have one life.”  Their society becomes increasingly dependent on immigrant workers, beset by crime, and dissolves.

The mature oak trees would probably maintain their forest as it is, if they could.  Their system, luckily for oak trees, allows disturbances to maintain the adaptive cycle of growth (r), maturation (K), disassembly (Ω) and reassembly (α).  Unluckily for our species, we are so adept at prolonging the K phase that we often destroy the capacity for reassembly.  The cradle of civilization in Turkey, Syria and Iraq attests to this fact with hundreds of dead cities in a man-made desert[1].  And more are in the making.

What will break us out of our seemingly uncontrollable need to stay in the K phase?  Especially this time of year, one would hope Christians would remember that “you must be born again” and embrace Ω and α.  We might then recognize when we are stultifying in a K phase and induce Ω so we can reassemble and jump to an enhanced r phase.

Or, like the transcendentalists[2], maybe Shiva, Brahma, Vishnu as destroyer, creator and preserver might be more to your liking. Though the Indians have had the Bhagavad Gita for 2500 years and they are still stuck trying to preserve a K phase and endure overpopulation as a result.

Or, we might pay attention to the Tao Te Ching and encompass both the creative (yang) and the destructive (yin) while not becoming too entranced with either.

Or, maybe we could be convinced by the Austrian school and the creative destruction of Schumpeter[3].

More radically, we could just set aside all these theories and return to what stimulated them in the first place.  We might even see how natural systems manage to be resilient and transform themselves if the disturbance is strong enough.

We might learn of how complementary diversity, conservative flexibility, modular connectivity, and controlled redundancy are the four qualities which lead to increased potential for ecosystem resilience and transformation.[4]

If we continue in our communion with nature, we might even understand a little better how to scuttle the K phase before it gets too comfortable and move into an α phase which expands our potential even more.

We might see the reason for the season encompasses both Christmas and Easter, α and Ω.

More likely we will keep trying to maintain our somewhat satisfying pleasures in our K phase and never induce the Ω required to get to α.  Most likely we will fail to realize that devotion to the pleasures of the K phase just insures a more cataclysmic destruction.  In the midst of that destruction, we’ll cry out in anguish, wondering where we went wrong.

The adaptive cycles are indifferent to our anguish, to fairness, to our limited sense of right and wrong.  They just are.  Or, if asked what you should call them, they would say “I am.”

So you can learn more about r, K, Ω, α and the qualities which lead to resilience and transformation.  Or you can just let them buffet you around as they wish.  Ω will come.  The only question is whether you use it or it abuses you.



[1] Lowdermilk, 1953.Conquest of the Land

[2] Thoreau, 1839. A week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers.Pp. 111, 116.

[3] Schumpeter, 1943. Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy.


Scorpions, passion and vocations

So clear this morning that the Milky Way has appeared.  Rare for these humid Delta skies. So many clear stars it was hard to pick out Scorpio for a bit, but the lawn chair shape eventually emerged.  Strange how a vicious animal like a scorpion can also be a lawn chair.

scorpius_02Reminded me of all the different talents that some of our beginning farmers have.  It takes time for a coherent vocational constellation to emerge.  Young folk often have a hard time deciding between all their different interests.  The biggest mistake they make is to continue to vacillate and jump between opposing vocations.  Being an itinerant rock musician doesn’t fit too well with any sort of farming.  Traveling the state aggregating local produce doesn’t fit too well with pursuing an engineering degree.  Organizing for progressive policy change doesn’t fit too well with making a living in an isolated, conservative mountain valley. Jumping back and forth between two conflicting interests means you never focus enough on one of them to develop your skills in that area.

Choosing one path and pursuing it with everything you have is much better than jumping back and forth.  Those who jump back and forth and never commit usually end up wasting years of their lives.  Fortunate are those who pick one path and pursue it unwavering for years.  Only this single-minded focus will reveals whether that path is your calling.

The career/careen of one of Meadowcreek’s advisors illustrates this.  He loved sports and was consumed with them until he realized he just wasn’t fast or coordinated enough and switched to journalism.  The athletic director at his high school was amazed at his tenacity as sports editor.  But he lacked the political instincts needed for a journalist to survive in a small town and turned his focus to debate.

A couple of his uncles bred and sold horses.  They would come to visit and always encouraged him to go into law.  “We need a lawyer in the family,” they’d say.  So he took political science and logic and government and other pre-law courses when he got to college.  But then he realized that law would be limited and boring.  He’d just be figuring out how to win cases, nothing more.  He’d learn about how other lawyers and judges minds worked, but not much more.  Then he discovered social psychology and pursued that with a passion–thinking it held the answers to vital questions.  When he’d explored that field and found how shallow the work really was, he changed trains again and got on the genetics express.

He had an unswerving, one-track focus on genetics for several years until he finally discovered his calling in helping small farmers organize cooperative processing and marketing.  It was only then that all the previous train rides converged in one bullet train which he is still riding.

What he didn’t do on any of those rides was think he had the answers.  He was always asking questions, pursuing experts and learning from them.  It was only by testing their advice that he learned about himself and the field.  Then he’d have enough knowledge to move on to another field that he needed, without knowing both would be crucial to my calling.

We have a lot of beginning farmers at Meadowcreek and we let them make mistakes.  Some children have to touch the stove and get burned.  Others will listen to their parents and ask their advice before messing with the stove.  The latter usually accomplish a lot more, unless they are so dependent they lack initiative.

Some folks come to Meadowcreek trying to escape authority.  In doing so, they often don’t feel the need to learn from those with vastly more experience.  So they fail, time and time again.  Eventually they either leave or they learn that innovation is only useful if it complements existing systems.  Resilient systems conserve the best of the past even as they are continually innovating.


For more on conservative innovation and resilient systems, check out the second edition of our book at: